“Come bell ringing. You might enjoy it”, said my friend Paul Sims. It wasn’t the first time I had heard it and I knew it wouldn’t be the last if I didn’t do something about it. So it was on August 13th 2013 that I found myself climbing up the stone staircase to the ringing chamber of St Mary’s church in Great Bedwyn. At the top of the stairs, I was confronted by the smallest doorway I have ever seen. As I bent down to get through, I was reminded of something similar from Alice in Wonderland.
Paul introduced me to Dave Haynes the tower captain who took me up to see the bells and explained some simple rules that I should follow i.e. both feet on the floor and don’t touch anything unless I am told to. The ringers then took hold and started ringing. To be honest I still couldn’t see what all the fuss was about – but that was about to change. “Right your turn.” I was told. “Tail stroke first.” I am not sure if it was then or a few pulls later that I knew that bell ringing was for me. I was hooked.
They said I made rapid progress for someone my age (59), and within a few weeks, I was just about capable of ringing on my own. Then I read in my parish magazine that they were looking for learners at my local church. So off I went to Shalbourne and it was there that I meet Mike Holt who is tower captain at Collingbourne Ducis and Collingbourne Kingston.
He gave me lots of encouragement and nipped a few handling faults I had already acquired in the bud. So from never ringing, I was ringing 3 times a week and making steady progress.
6 months had gone by and I made the decision to start visiting other towers in my area to gain more experience of ringing different bells. It was on one of my outings, I ended up at Kintbury and here I meet Mike and Lucy Hopkins-Till. Mike is joint ringing master at Winchester Cathedral and Lucy has been ringing since she was 8. If asked, she is adamant it has only been 20 years, but I have my suspicions!
With their help I made good progress and rang my first quarter peal on August 5th 2014. I was very nervous and by the end I was minus several layers of skin on my hands, but it was worth it and as Mike said, the pain doesn’t last forever. I was then forced to take a couple of breaks from ringing due to surgery on both my hands for carpal tunnel problems. Even though I couldn’t ring, I still studied at home and went to practice nights, as I found that I can learn a lot from just watching others ring.
2015 saw me ring 2 more quarters (no blisters!) and I happened to mention to Mike that I had read that they were looking to get 300 new peal ringers. I said I would like to give it a try and he saw no problems with me attempting it.
The beginning of December came and Mike spoke to me and said the peal was on, only the date and time was to be arranged. I wasn’t sure of my feelings at that moment, they were somewhere between cloud nine and Dante’s inferno.
31st December peal day
I arrived at St Mary’s church, Speen at 9.40. The others arrived at just before 10:00. I already knew Helen Piper and Gill Gardner, having rung with them before. Mike and Lucy were on time, and we made our way up to the tower. We were then joined shortly after by Bruce Purvis. I popped a boiled sweet in to my mouth. This is something I had done before while ringing a quarter peal as it stopped me getting thirsty. I mentioned to my friend Paul that the sweet had lasted the full 45 minutes. His reply was that next time I should try taking off the wrapper!
Last thing to do was to take off my watch. Nothing worse than clock watching. We did a few rounds to adjust our rope lengths and then stood. Mike checked we were all ok to go, then we were off. All seemed to be going well until after about 15 minutes there was a hic-cup and we were called to a halt. Undeterred we set off again.
I soon got into a good rhythm 123456 654321 123456 654321…… I was getting the hang of this Bob Minor. I was feeling good about it. Of course having no watch, I had no idea of how long we had been ringing. Then Mike called “3 extents to go”, so I realised that we were over half way and I still had a good portion of sweet left! The time seemed to have flown by. I started to feel a little weary and once or twice my handling left a lot to be desired, but then out of the blue Mike called “This is all.” He then called “Stand” and everybody tied their ropes and walked off. I would have done the same, but for the life of me I couldn’t get anything below my waist to move! My legs were locked solid! Only temporary of course (or I would still be there!) and it gave the others a laugh. Next time I must remember to move every so often.
I had done it! I had rung a full peal. 3 hours and 5 minutes and not a blister in sight! Looking back I still can’t help feeling amazed at what I had achieved.
My thanks go to those that were there that day and for all the nods and winks I received that helped me get to the end.